JBO was very pleased to head toNapaValleyfor an afternoon of sunshine, wine, beer, BBQ and fine music bySan Francisco’s Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers. The sign read, “SOLD OUT”. That tells you something about this band playing a small winery a few hours away from “home” – they certainly have their devoted fans. They give you the sense you are friends, chatting and thanking you for the love and dedication (noting the day’s sell out and a handful of other sold out shows on their summer tour), told us how much they missed the Bay area after their North West tour, remarked how much they enjoyed playing the Long Meadow Winery the year prior and noting the new smoker on site, and gave us all a caring reminder to use sun screen. Nicki and her Gramblers have a familiarity about them when they play; it’s like you’re watching good pals perform in your back yard for your family and friends.
The concert was held on the lawn behind the restaurant. All guests were offered a free tasting of Long Meadow Ranch’s wines – that day they were offering a white and red in their tasting room. I tried the cool Sauvignon Blanc while enjoying a needed moment in the shade! It was quite warm for this coastal girl, at 85 degrees and barely a breeze. Props to the band who got to face the sun the entire show – it didn’t seem to faze them though as they smiled and kept their energy flowing all afternoon!
The crowd was a mix of fans from all ages and walks of life, likely drawn to the music for the variety of sound explored within what they do – at times a bit of Americana or folk, or blues and funk, with a bit of the spirit of New Orleans. It can bring you to a time when music was felt more than heard; place the needle to the vinyl and let the warm sounds fill your soul. The songs tell us stories of travel, tough times, hard lessons, the love you can only get from family and friends, and a lot of spirit and adventure tossed in along the way. I’ve heard their music described as the feel you get from driving down a winding country road with the windows open, the sun shining and the breeze blowing. This is exactly what comes to mind when I hear the Allman Brothers play– it’s my “sunny day music”. And ironically, the story behind Ms. Nicki Bluhm is that she met her then future husband Tim Bluhm at a party – he noticed her playing the guitar and singing “Statesboro Blues” by the Allmans.
Nicki has a way of shaping the tone of her voice to the mood, or story behind the song. She can sound like Nora Jones or Christine McVee. Remember DustySpringfield? And then you might hear Bonnie Raitt or Linda Ronstadt – especially singing their rock and blues songs. She has a depth and soul to her voice, and along with an impressive vocal range, she has been tagged the “It Girl” of theSan Franciscomusic scene. The band is tight and has a skilled performance even though they’ve only been together a handful of years.
The set was about 90 minutes or so, with a variety of songs from Toby’s Song (2008) and Driftwood, the most recent release (2011). There were a handful of songs tossed in that I did not recognize, but that mattered not as I found myself dancing around in the crowd with a big ole smile. Also tossed in were a few crowd pleasing covers – the Grateful Dead’s “Deal” and a smokin’ rendition of Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good”.
With 34 or more shows listed on their tour, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and Washington to Florida, they certainly have a busy year ahead, and I suspect their fan base will continue to blossom along the road…… Speaking of the road, go check out their Van Sessions on YouTube – videos from the dash board of their van they make while out on tour. Please also stay tunes to jambandsonline.com for our most recent interview with Nicki by our editor Lori S. Twohy. We guarantee you won’t be sorry!
The Gramblers are Dave Mulligan (acoustic guitar and vocals), Deren Ney (electric guitar and vocals), Mike Pascale (bass), and Mike Curry (drums). Nicki’s husband, Tim Bluhm, often joins the band when he is not on tour with his band, The Mother Hips.
Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers
Long Meadow Restaurant and Winery
Saint Helena, California
Saturday, June 9, 2012
Set List: GoGoGo, Mountain Out of Nothing, I Wanna Be Your Mama, Before You Loved Me, Carousel, Toby’s Song, BarbaryBlues, Deal, Little Too Late, Santa FeRunaway, I’m Your Woman, Pack Up Your Sorrows, Beer n’ Booze, You’re No Good, Burnt, Jetplane, E. Kill You To Call